Reading rocks for kids … and gets them bikes

HARRISON

Got books?

Yes, that could well be the motto for kids at Harrison’s Lincoln and Hamilton elementary schools.

A visitor to the town’s Public Library a couple of weeks ago might have thought they were giving away gold bullion, judging from the 100 or so youngsters and parents who swarmed the children’s section that day.

Kids from kindergarten through grade 5 got free books furnished by district assistant curriculum director Amy Heberling and several teachers plus they got to make cardboard bookmarks, sing with music teacher /guitarist Robin Lee and enjoy treats like brownies, cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies prepared by students from Harrison High School’s culinary kitchen.

One Lincoln School first-grader’s mom, who gave only her first name, Mairenis, said, “My husband was a history major in college and he made me promise to bring Taylor [her daughter] to the library twice a week.”

Books have become a happy habit for Taylor, who got her library card when she was in kindergarten: “Every night before she goes to bed, my husband and I take turns reading to her,” her mom said.

Another mom, Shyamala Jacob, who accompanied her daughter Ashrita, a fourth-grader at Hamilton School, to the library, said Ashrita “likes all types of books.”

A week later, there were more rewards when kids selected from each grade in both schools for their reading appetites were the lucky winners of 47 bikes donated by Walmart through a “community partner” grant. The district raised funds to pay for helmets.

These activities were the joyous culmination of a year-long initiative by the district to jumpstart kids’ performance in English Language Arts through the habit of reading.

Among kids in kindergarten, personal favs are trending toward the “Amelia Bedelia” series for girls and “Captain Underpants” for boys, said Lincoln School teacher Lindsay DeMaio, who paused in her bookmark-making instruction to give this tip to a reporter.

“This [library] program is a nice refresher before school lets out,” DeMaio noted. During the summer, her students as will those in other grades “must read a book of their choice.”

Last week, when the kids got their bicycles many with training wheels Heberling said that books were meant to be the inspiration. So no wonder she called the giveaway, “Get a ride from reading.”

“We also gave out applications to get a library card to those kids who don’t have yet one,” she said.

Heberling, who also serves as a literacy coach, credited her overseer, curriculum & instruction director Maureen Kroog, with being “all in” on the project.

“We talked about doing this after learning that Nutley [schools] did something similar and we put it together in a couple of days,” she said.

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.